So, the two-match Test series between England and New Zealand is finally out of the way as the cricket world gets closer to the inaugural World Test Championship finale. But, there were many engrossing happenings from the series that India will need to take into account when they play the final.
Devon Conway is the real threat
Devon Conway symbolized that hilarious modern-day meme to perfection, you prepare, revise and strategize for all the main things (Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor) for a given exam, only to be stumped by something (Devon Conway) out of the syllabus. Let's get this clear. In England conditions, against the Dukes, up against the seasoned Broad and Anderson, playing your first series in whites, you aren't supposed to dominate the proceedings like the way Conway did. The left-handed opener ended with 306 runs in the series, the best aggregate from either side, at a phenomenal average of 76.5.
But Conway isn't just about numbers as marvellous as they may seem. The southpaw has a presence of his own, and that that edge, the X-factor that can make or break the game. But the way he mixes his flair with temperament is what stands out. He carried the team's batting on his shoulders. The 29-years-old scored 52.9% of the team's runs in the first innings at Lord's, while it was his slew of drives on day two of the Edgbaston Test that got New Zealand out of the troubled waters when Broad was in the middle of one of those ominous spells, with no Kane Williamson at 3. That set the tone for New Zealand's dominance with the bat. Given his solid technique, unflappable temperament, hunger to play the big knock, and eagerness to dominate the big stage, he will be a bigger threat than Kane Williamson or Ross Taylor in the clash of titans against India in the WTC finale.
New Zealand's woeful bowling against tail
There was a time when the New Zealand bowlers were very efficient in cleaning up the tail. But, ever since copping a pasting from Faheem Ashraf and Pakistan's tail at home, the Black Caps haven't recovered from the assault and have failed to put an end to the resistance shown by the tail-enders promptly. It has resulted in the tail-enders (8-11) averaging 19.19 against the Kiwis, which is their best display against any of the top five Test sides since December 25, 2020. In comparison, teams like Pakistan (10.28), India (10.92) and Australia (11.81) have done a remarkable job with the lower-order batters struggling against them. While England (16.5) has been the second-worst since New Zealand.
Even in the recently-concluded series, New Zealand allowed England's tail to get away twice, as they lacked the killer instinct to clean up the tail. The Three Lions' last four wickets added 135 and 128 runs in the first innings of both the Tests, which was shoddy. Now, India isn't a team particularly known for their lower-order batting. But among the top five nations, India's tail have the third-best average at 14.11. And a certain R Ashwin at 8, who averages 25.78 in England, and had scored a century last series, can reprise the role of Ollie Robinson from the Lord's Test, with an attacking Ravindra Jadeja or Rishabh Pant or any set batter from the other end, to infuriate and take away the game from New Zealand in an area they struggle a lot.
New Zealand's solid yet susceptible batting
The England Tests showcased the depth in New Zealand's batting. Even in the absence of their regulars Kane Williamson and BJ Watling in the second Test, Will Young and Tom Blundell proved their mettle, made crucial contributions towards their side's win. Not to forget, how well the inexperienced Conway did with the bat. Furthermore, Henry Nicholls and Ross Taylor also batted solidly, and all these displays bode well for the side. However, the series again reiterated New Zealand's tendency to collapse from dominant positions in away Tests, when it comes to the first innings.
Since the start of the WTC cycle, New Zealand have played seven away Tests, and in five of those games, they have thrown away the advantage with the bat as can be seen in the table. This series again exhibited New Zealand's tendency to collapse from positions of ascendency. So as good as the Kiwi line-up is, there is always a collapse around the corner and one wicket often leads to a bunch of them. So the Indian bowlers will always remain in the contest as there can be a lot of twists and turns when New Zealand are batting in the finals.
Merit in playing two spinners for India
There was movement on offer in the entire series but the wickets were still largely on the flatter side, especially by English standards. It was in line with what English skipper Joe Root had wanted after the India drubbing - flatter wickets - so that the games last longer and it prepares the hosts better for winning series' away from home. Now, it was interesting to note that both England and New Zealand didn't play specialist spinners in the first Test but when Ajaz Patel did feature for New Zealand at Edgbaston, he exhibited what both sides had missed at Lord's and England continued to miss in the second game.
On relatively flatter wickets like these, both R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja can prove to be handy. And India might well be tempted to play both of them together instead of an extra pacer in the World Test Championship finale that will be played in Southampton, which has traditionally helped spinners. In the first Test, English skipper Joe Root, while rolling over his arms, was threatening with the ball in hand, and there were times when the Kiwi batsmen looked vulnerable against him, which bolsters the point of having two world-class spinners in the side to play on New Zealand's weakness against spin.